Clipping coupons and shopping for bargains may be routine for most budget-conscious shoppers, but those tried-and-true tactics aren't the only ways to save on food. Here are 15 unique ideas for cutting food costs, from overlooked cuts of meat to creative ways of putting food waste to work.
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Eating out as a family is almost always more expensive than eating at home -- unless the restaurant offers a "kids eat free" deal. A family of four can often dine out for what it would cost to eat a similar meal at home. Plus, getting a break from the kitchen? Priceless.
It's easy to buy more vegetables or meats than needed for a recipe, and too often these perishable items go to waste. Instead of doing a sweep and gathering all the stragglers into another soup or stir-fry, consider adding cheese, tomato sauce, and noodles to create a lasagna. This is a go-to recipe for using up ingredients left in the fridge.
Plain water can get boring, but alternatives such as coconut water and sports drinks are expensive. Infusions give water a touch of flavor, making it exciting to the palate and encouraging hydration. Each liter only uses a few low-cost ingredients. And why stick with the usual cucumbers and oranges? For anyone who lives in an area with evergreen trees, it doesn't cost a thing to pluck some branches to make pine-flavored water. It pairs well with smoked meats and other strong flavors.
All too often kids take a few bites of a meal or snack before declaring they are full. Rather than waste food by tossing leftovers in the trash, simply snap a lid on top of the plate so the meal doesn't take on off flavors in the fridge.
Related: 10 Ways to Waste Less Food (and Money!)
As simple as it is to pick up a bottle of salad dressing or a carton of chicken stock at the store, it's almost as easy -- and cheaper -- to make it at home. To make hummus, for example, toss chickpeas, olive oil, and a few other basic ingredients into a food processor, and it's ready to eat.
Everyone knows to buy certain foods in bulk and freeze the excess to save money, but think beyond chicken breasts. When staples like butter go on sale, grab extra for freezing. Individually wrapped sticks can go straight into the freezer and keep for up to six months before thawing in the fridge. Bread and berries stay fresh for up to one year, milk for three months, and fresh orange juice for four.
Fresh herbs often come in larger quantities than a cook can use before they go bad. Instead of letting the unused portions go to waste, chop up leftover herbs, measure into ice cube trays with water, and freeze. Toss a few cubes into soups and stews or mix with butter for sautéing vegetables and meats.
Anyone who has ever made guacamole knows the unappetizing gray color it takes on shortly after it's been made. The sight can be especially hard to stomach given the high price of avocados. Slow down the oxidation process by adding the avocado pit to the guacamole. This trick won't keep it fresh forever, but the guacamole should stay green for hours longer, which is especially helpful when taking the dish to a party. Have leftover avocado? Store it with a slice of onion to keep it fresh longer.
Looking for a cheap cut of meat? Pork shoulder often goes on sale for less than $2 a pound and can even be found for less than $1 on a lucky day. An average-size, 6- or 7-pound pork shoulder feeds at least eight people, so a crowd can eat very well for less than $15. Pork shoulder recipes tend to have long cooking times that require the oven to be on for many hours, so winter is the perfect time to try this flavorful cut.
If your potatoes have "eyes" or seem less than fresh, consider putting them in the ground. Grow potatoes indoors in winter if you live in a cold climate, then plant outdoors in spring. Herbs can be placed in water until roots grow and potted for the rest of the season.
Sales at many grocery stores require membership in a free loyalty program. When out of town or shopping at a unfamiliar chain, don't forgo valuable discounts because you don't want to bother with the paperwork. Just ask the cashier to swipe a store card to apply any available discounts, or let you fill out the forms later. Many checkers are happy to comply with such requests.